PM says GOB won’t appeal S53 ruling

Well, Government has no plan to appeal the section 53 decision. That is what Prime Minister Dean Barrow, with his new Attorney General on his right and the Solicitor General who argued the case on his left,  said today at a press conference called specifically to give Government’s response to the Section 53 decision in which he ruled to strike down the law as unconstitutional. That position was relayed by new Attorney General Vanessa Retreage in a brief statement at the press conference.

Vanessa Retreage, Attonery General;vlcsnap-2016-08-18-16h07m27s194

The decision to amend Section Fifty-three of the Criminal Code to decriminalize consensual sexual acts between adults in private has generated much controversy; however, the government must accept, as the court has stated, that public opinion cannot be allowed to shift the court from performing its solemn duty to interpret the constitution and would add or the government from its duty to respect the decision of the court.  In this regard, it is of utmost importance that the public understands the findings of the Honorable Chief Justice in their barest form without the bias of either opposing view.  The government, in considering whether it would appeal, embarked on this sober exercise for itself and found the following to be the findings of the Honorable Chief Justice: one, that consensual sexual acts between adults in private is no longer a crime; and two, that the constitution as it now reads, without any amendment, should be interpreted so as to prevent discrimination against any person as a result of that person’s sexual orientation.  Those are the very narrow and limited findings of the Chief Justice.  The government has closely considered the option of appealing and has sought legal advice as to the possible merits and benefits of appealing.  In this regard, it is noted that there were seven interested organizations which argued the case apart from the claimant and the government with no less than fifteen attorneys representing them.  Government is therefore satisfied that the case was properly argued and does not see any aspect of the decision that would benefit from further argument and as such, has taken the decision not to appeal.  It is also conscious that the option of appealing is open to one or more of the interested parties and it is not the government’s intent to influence or in any way preclude any legal steps which others may consider that they wish to pursue.  The government is however satisfied that it must not appeal simply for the sake of appealing but must ensure that its actions best serves the interests of the Belizean people.

According to Prime Minster Dean Barrow, the church is free to appeal but he will not.

Rt. Hon. Dean Borrow, Prime Minister;

Well the attorney general has just said, it is not the position that the churches cannot on their own bring an appeal.  It is important because the letter from the National Evangelical Association of Belize also seems to misunderstand the situation.  They say, “Greetings, we are writing concerning Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin’s recent ruling on Section Fifty-three of the Criminal Code, the sodomy law of Belize.  We are requesting you to appeal the Chief Justice’s ruling, as well as enter an appeal for the church as an interested party in this case.”  No sirs, you are perfectly free to apply to court to be given leave to appeal.  As I understand it, you need not even have been an interested party to be able to get leave to appeal, as long as you can show that the decision of the court affects you, you are entitled to apply for leave to appeal.  In this case, because you were interested parties.  It strikes me that you are almost immediately and automatically there, I don’t think that it is that you can appeal without applying for leave to appeal but I need to say to you and to the Roman Catholics that that was part of the matrix of considerations that Cabinet took onboard when it made its decision not to appeal.  We know how strongly you feel about this issue, the fact is you can appeal.  Government does not see that on the merits an appeal would succeed and so based on our legal advice we are not going to appeal. But it is perfectly open to you to appeal.

While the Prime Minister says that the church is free to appeal, according to attorneys for the churches, since the church was simply added to the case as an interested party, they cannot appeal the case. There exists no precedence for an interested party to appeal a case. Even attorney for Caleb Orozco and UNIBAM, Lisa Shoman, in a facebook post said, “I do not agree with PM that the Churches Interested Parties have locus standi to appeal the Orozco decision.”  With an appeal seemingly off the table, the Prime Minister was asked about the possibility of placing the definition of marriage in the constitution.

Rt. Hon. Dean Borrow, Prime Minister;vlcsnap-2016-08-18-15h14m12s245

Cabinet ultimately had no difficulty not to appeal because of the narrow circumscription of the Chief Justice findings and the legal advice that is reasoning is correct. It would be an entirely different matter if the people were to try to press upon the Government that Government must in activist way promote some sort of law that would alter the current legal possession that marriage is between a man and a woman. Again, the claimant have every right to do whatever they wish to do, I will tell you now, Government, this Government will not countenance that if there are to be legal challenges entirely different from the question of criminalizing anal sex. If there are to be legal initiatives meant to offend the institution of marriage as we know in this institution Government will absolutely and fervently and ferociously resist that.  

According to Adelle Ramos of Amandala, it was Dean Barrow when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs who  signed an international Convention which expanded the word sex to mean sexual preference. The CJ cited the same Convention to expand the meaning of the word Sex to Sexual Orientation.

Rt. Hon. Dean Borrow, Prime Minister;

If we had wanted to enter some sort of reservation to the treaty we aught to have done so when we were signing on. I tell you again, how long ago? 1996, we never had these current paroxysms and cataclysms. Nobody gave any thought to that so they would have been, it was two years after that we singed. So I tell you that nobody would have stopped to consider the fact that there is a case that interprets Sex under the convention to mean sexual orientation, it wasn’t an issue. It’s certainly, I don’t know what you’re suggesting, might happen that we can go and enter a reservation now. Not after the ship has sail, not after the Chief Justice gave his ruling.

The Prime Minister went on to speak about what he described as “cabinet discomfort” with the implications of the decision. He says, however, that the decision was taken to not appeal the CJ decision.   

Rt. Hon. Dean Borrow, Prime Minister;

The position we have taken was come to after a very spirited debate was had among members of Cabinet.  My Cabinet is no different from the wider society and this issue has attracted different opinions, different opinions that are fiercely held.  Cabinet, therefore, wants it to be made absolutely clear that the position taken is driven principally by what the Honorable Attorney General has said, a considered examination of the legal merits or otherwise of an appeal.  In other words, the very many members of the Cabinet who would want to make clear that their support of the decision taken must be placed in that narrow legal context.  It should not be interpreted as any blanket support for LGBT positions.  Similarly, there are members of Cabinet who do support those positions. I tried to make clear that the decision not appeal is one take principally on the basis of the legal merits or lack thereof. What I said the Cabinet was split on is the question of whether this case apart there is support for LGBT issues, so I hope that clarifies is completely.

The Prime Minster also said that having won this victory at court, he hopes the LGBT community will use it as a shield and not a sword.

Rt. Hon. Dean Borrow, Prime Minister;

Consequences of that ruling are circumscribed between a very narrow compass and Government has no desire or intention of moving beyond that compass so there is nothing to consult about because I tell you again; we saw what has happened as representing a shield not a sword so there is nothing that we contemplate as being any sort of necessary follow on from the Chief Justice ruling. It is self-contained it deals with section 53, it removes the criminal stigma or possibility of saction with respect to consensual sexual act done in private, because another thing I hear people saying “oh it means People could go out in public engage in sex, but the laws are still clear that you cannot do that, but there is nothing that we consider needs to be done or ought to be done in consequence of the ruling. It does what it does and only that and as far as we’re concerned it should not be taken any further.


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